Sunday, December 21, 2014

Learning to be a Friend is a Lifelong Endeavor

Although I have not read Letty Cottin Pogrebin's book about being a good friend to someone who is ill, I've learned a few dos and don'ts in the last few months.  In no particular order, here are some of them:
  1. Do check in from time to time.  Snail mail, email, and texts are best, and, if you're not sure about what to say, you need not say anything more than "I'm thinking about you."
  2. Don't necessarily expect a reply to your message, and definitely don't end with "Let me know how you're doing," or "I'd love to hear from you," or even, "Drop me a line when you're up to it."  Your friend is exhausted and just reading your message may take all the energy he has available.
  3. Don't ask to get together for coffee or a drink.  Often, alcohol isn't an option for someone who's ill or undergoing chemotherapy (and she misses it, even if it's only a glass a day), but more to the point, your friend's energy level will be near zero, and she will need to conserve it for whatever she's deemed most important in her life at the moment.  Meeting you for coffee or a drink likely isn't at the top of the list.
  4. Don't ask, "What can I do for you?"  Now is not the time for open-ended questions.
  5. In fact, don't ask anything at all of your friend.
  6. If you live nearby, do say, "I'm going to the grocery store, the drug store, etc.  Is there anything I can pick up for you?"
  7. Do offer to do specific things that will expedite your friend's ability to take off her wig, put on her jammies, and crawl into bed:  "I'm picking up Zack from the bar mitzvah reception at 4.  I'll drop Ian at home."
  8. As well meaning as it is to send a gift, do make sure that it's something the recipient will appreciate.  A cozy fleece throw for the couch is a winner, as is a gift card for a restaurant or coffee shop you know is a part of your friend's routine.
  9. Don't presume that the things you'd appreciate -- a Netflix subscription, ingredients for complex gourmet meals that have to be assembled by the recipient, or an at-home massage -- will be as enthusiastically welcomed by others.
  10. Don't offer to go to chemotherapy unless you're willing to make the nearly full-day time commitment it requires.  Although your friend will be tethered to a chair for several hours, It would be great if you could meet her for coffee beforehand and go with her for blood work 30 minutes before the chemo appointment itself.  You'll also need to run out to get lunch and be present throughout (even when there are unexpected delays in the process).  Once she's untethered, you'll need to accompany her home, get her settled on the couch, and pick up an afternoon snack. Ideally,  you'll also be able to hang out in her apartment into the early evening as a reassuring presence in case she doesn't feel well.
I know that Amy is extremely grateful for the many good wishes and  prayers that have been sent her way, and for the wonderful, thoughtful ways that friends -- near and far -- have demonstrated their care, concern, and love for her.

As she noted in a recent Facebook post, "So happy to report that the hard sessions of chemo are over as of yesterday. [Easier-to-tolerate chemo and antibody therapy will begin in early January.]... Here's to a joyous and healthy 2015 and my thanks to all of you for your kindest gestures and words of encouragement. Onward.

Onward, indeed!